I was a frequent taxi rider for 14 years. In my twice-a-day rides, I met countless of drivers whose stories are interesting enough to merit retelling. Now, my taxi rides are fewer than 10 a month, but the drivers are still as talkative as ever. Last Thursday, on my way to Greenhills to watch Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I had the good fortune of meeting this driver.
This driver did not make a great first impression on me. He disregarded the route I told him to take and proceeded to the roundabout way. I was a little miffed because I know the area like the palm of my hand, having worked there for more than a decade, and the route he took included two bottleneck roads. While the additional two stoplights that we passed made our trip several minutes longer, they also gave us time to talk about trivial things.
The empty conversation turned serious when he talked about the constant presence of knee-deep floodwater in the area where he lives (somewhere in Novaliches). That talk quickly branched out into worst floods and typhoons in the Philippines.
Conversations about typhoons will not be complete without mentioning Typhoon Haiyan. I told him I am from Iloilo and was in Iloilo when Haiyan struck. He told me that he went to Iloilo and then to Leyte during rescue and recovery efforts after Haiyan. He took a leave of absence from work (he pointed at the dark-blue jacket with the logo and name of the company, hanging from the back of his seat) and volunteered as a driver. He drove charitable Filipinos and foreigners who arrived at Iloilo airport to the most devastated areas in my province. He added that the Ilonggos are gentle and hardworking. He said that those who were displaced by Haiyan worked day and night to clean their immediate vicinity or build their houses.
After two weeks of nonstop driving and sometimes aiding in building houses, he got sick. He said that it was mainly due to the makeshift bed that he had. He slept on the floor with only a karton (flattened cardboard box) as his sapin (mat or anything that covers the back part of the body). Eventually, the cold got him. I asked him if he stopped after that, he said no. On the contrary, it strengthened his resolve to stay longer to help more people. Towards the end of his period as a volunteer, he went to Leyte. He said some things about his experience there, but I will not write them here.
As we neared my drop-off point, I silently reprimanded myself for passing judgment on the driver almost instantaneously. Before I got out of the taxi, I thanked him for helping my fellow Ilonggos and gave him a substantial tip.